Skip to main content
Internet Archive's 25th Anniversary Logo

tv   Eliza Jumel and Aaron Burr  CSPAN  February 21, 2016 9:05pm-9:56pm EST

9:05 pm
me is national service. there are 5 million young americans who are ready to step forward and serve their country. next on american history tv, margaret oppenheimer talks about her book, the remarkable rise of eliza jumel: a story of marriage and money in the early republic. jumelnto poverty, eliza became one of the richest women in 19th-century new york. the author describes her unusual life, including a marriage to vice president aaron burr. the museum of finance hosted this event. >> good afternoon, everybody. there has been a big resurgence in the past year of all things hamilton with the play on broadway going on. we are going to learn more about aaron burr from margaret
9:06 pm
oppenheimer. this is her third book. she has written extensive articles. she has her phd in art history from nyu and she volunteers as a gym all mentioned in new york. her book will be on sale afterward. it is my pleasure to introduce margaret oppenheimer. [applause] margaret: thank you very much. july 3, age 33, a distinguished new yorker wrote a note in his diary. burr wasrated kernel married to the celebrated mrs. to mouth.
9:07 pm
-- mrs. jumel. waschoice of adjectives interesting. not distinguished, but celebrated. celebrity had the same connotation it does today. someone who was known to the public but not always with approval. today, i am going to talk about how eliza jumel and aaron burr became public figures, why they married, and what happened after these two celebrities joined hands. ladies first. eliza jumel is on the right. she is painted here one year before her marriage to aaron burr next to a portrait of him painted after the ceremony. born betsy bowen in providence, rhode island, in
9:08 pm
1775. about 2.5 weeks before the battle of lexington. there was absolutely nothing in her beginnings to suggest that her name would one day be known around america. was born in indescribable poverty. by the time she was seven years brothel was living in a with her mother. stayede was older, she twice in a providence workhouse when her mother was on a bill to take care of her. when she was 10 years old, the overseers for the poor bound her out as an indentured servant, and meeting that from the age of 10, she would be living and
9:09 pm
working in a stranger's home. this was on a promising beginning but the young betsy bowen was a survivor. she did what so many celebrities have done, she reinvented herself appeared as a young woman, she got herself to new york city. she adopted a more fashionable name, calling herself utilize a. -- eliza. she worked as an extra in the theater, in the park theatre on per growth. row. park most importantly, she married a wealthy french merchant. easy but it was not in this day to this was a withouton she needed
9:10 pm
paris negotiating for her, without financial assets, without prominent family connections to offer. vaulted her into the upper-middle-class. had stephen who lived in lower manhattan. one point, just off broadway near bowling green. they kept a carriage. they also acquired a country estate 9.5 miles north of the city. it was then the countryside, today it is washington heights. here is the property they acquired today. is known as the morris jumel mansion and it is well worth visiting. they also purchased property at the corner of broadway and liberty streets, three blocks
9:11 pm
south of wall street. they paid about $14,000 -- be envious. this is their broadway frontage, the building on the far right, in 1848. ned additional frontage around the corner on liberty street. napoleon, theyof also spent some years in france which gave eliza jumel more opportunities to reinvent herself. here is where they lived for several years, one of the most elegant addresses in paris. eliza assembled in our collection, turning herself into a connoisseur. this was the largest collection of european art assembled by a
9:12 pm
private citizen of the united states up to that time. she had 242 european paintings. she also took great pride in having contacts at the court of shes the 18th, which would later exaggerate in the united states to improve her social status. their time in france ended with the panic of 1825, which threatened her and her husband's security. she put her country home in new york city in trust, possibly at her urging. that meant it would be hers for as sheree to manage wished in safe from his creditors. even if he predeceased her, she would not have to very about spending her widowhood in
9:13 pm
poverty. she acted beyond this to ensure financial security. returned to the united states before husband. she used a power of attorney to put almost all the remaining real estate, including those broadway buildings, in trust for herself for life. so, she transmuted herself into something very rare, a married woman who was also a proprietor in her own right. died at the age of 67, a few years later in 1832, turning her from a wealthy wife into an even wealthier widow.
9:14 pm
but -- and there is always a but celebrity- she was a rather than a true grande dame. until late in her life, people always remembered that she .asn't born into her status word got around about the way she had transferred her property into her own name and most people -- at least most men -- disapproved. she remained an outsider. she was not a member of the new york elite. in contrast, her soon-to-be burned aaron burr was into the social status she dreamed of entering. his father was president of the college of new jersey, today princeton, which he attended. on his mother's side, he was the
9:15 pm
grandson of the famous cleric jonathan edwards, who wrote the sermon seniors in the hand of an angry god. yearsved bravely for five in the worth independence. he served in the battle of quebec. he trained as a lawyer after the war, serving in the new york state assembly, and also new york attorney general. he also served a term in the u.s. senate, beating at alexander and a -- alexander hamilton's father-in-law. in 1800, when thomas jefferson was elected president, aaron burr became vice president. here he is during his time in office.
9:16 pm
in spite of his the innings, but the time of his marriage to celebrated, he was -- even a tory us -- rather than distinguished. in 1804, he ran for governor of new york. he was defeated because of slurs about his character disseminated by his political rivals. he lost. shortly after the election, hamilton said something derogatory at a private dinner party. word got back to aaron burr. you all know what happens. aaron burr challenged hamilton to a dual. they fought on the dueling grounds across the river and we hawking, new jersey. aaron burr shot hamilton in the abdomen.
9:17 pm
hamilton died the next day. aaron burr's reputation never recovered. it was delighted even further between next few years 1804-1807, aaron burr made a quasilegal attempt to seize land in mexico and what is now the southern united states. this resulted in a trial for high treason and high misdemeanor by the united states supreme court. he was acquitted. in jefferson second term as president, he was against aaron burr. further attempts at prosecution were likely. aaron burr fled to europe. as late as 1812 when he returned , he had to slip into the country under a false name. ultimately, he returned to the
9:18 pm
practice of law in new york city and that is what he was doing in 1833, the year if his marriage to eliza jumel. the question remains, what brought them together? the undoubted attraction was eliza jumel's money. aaron burr was a brilliant man in many ways. he was a genius at seizing opportunities. he was a compulsive debtor, totally unable to save money for tomorrow. i found quite a few records of the new york court that have not previously been examined in his literature. they show him time after time borrowing money, sing promising to do that, and then default in. five cases, i found
9:19 pm
between 1819-1829 in which aaron burr borrowed money, given promissory note, and then was unable to pay. askedther two cases, he someone to supply goods or services and he never paid them. in 1833, two months before his marriage, he had to find a new place to live because he was evicted from his lodgings for nonpayment of rent. the address where he lived, one block behind city hall. these cases are only the ones that made it into court. there must have been far more incidences where he borrowed money and did not return it.
9:20 pm
in his defense, i will say that i think he typically intended to pay back the money he borrowed but were simply unable to control and spending. telling argument in support of this is something that occurred three months after his marriage to eliza jumel. took the risk of conducting a deal that was highly questionable ethically because it would provide him with a regular income of $500 twice really for the rest of his life. immediately did himself out of this valuable annuity. hassed the agreement security to get advances from
9:21 pm
the manhattan company, the future chase manhattan bank. two of his received promised $500 payments when he was so overdrawn on his account of the manhattan company seized ownership of the bond that he had given at security. so he would not be a put a claim any more of these 500 other payments which otherwise would have been his for life. to put the asset that he squandered into perspective, as late as 1850, a working-class family of four could live in new york city for $600 per year. aaron burr did not seem to be put to manage money. a marriage to eliza jumel would give him a big pot of money to spend.
9:22 pm
eliza jumel had motivations for the marriage. beginuld soon have to settling her first husband's estate. aaron burr with his knowledge of the law could help her protect her assets. but the main attraction of the marriage was the opportunity to enter social circles that had been previously closed to her. burr still had enough friends that she could anticipate that this marriage would pry open social doors. charmingr was a very man. for a woman who had to struggle for social acceptance, a must have been very flattering to have the courtship of a man who had held this country second-highest office. ies entered it
9:23 pm
willingly. 33, married on july 1, aged in the front parlor of eliza jumel's mansion in washington heights. here it is today. 58, aaron burr was 77. how long do you think this marriage lasted? [laughter] margaret: any guesses? you are optimistic. [laughter] ongaret: and they married july 1, 1833. they were separated by the end of september. by november -- by the end of september, aaron burr had left the mention. by november, they were separated for good. a year after the marriage, on
9:24 pm
july 11, 1834, eliza jumel filed for divorce. filed on the 30th burr'ssary of aaron ruinous dual with hamilton. [laughter] what went wrong? >> [indiscernible] well, i don't think she thought quite that far in advance. seem to promising marriage on the surface. to what went wrong, the closest indicator comes from an incident that occurred in june, 1834. she was out and about in manhattan and she so william dunlap.
9:25 pm
he had been the manager of the park theatre where she had worked as a next her 20 years before. speak and dunlap wrote in his diary later in the burr andd after aaron eliza jumel replied, i don't see him anymore. he got $13,000 of my property and spend it all or give it away and had no money to buy himself dinner. i had a new carriage and horses -- he took of them and sold them. appalleds absolutely at her frankness. what confidence can be placed in the words of such a woman, it can be hard to say, he wrote, that their marriage makes anything with him credible.
9:26 pm
for a woman to be critical of her husband to a mere acquaintance was not done in his social circles. if we are going to be critical of the behavior here, aaron burr's was far worse. to put $30,000 in perspective, that has the buying power of three to $78,000 today. -- $370,000 today. , eliza jumel had $13,000 to spend a few years later. she used it to purchase 217 in saratogad springs, which she rented out to farmers, assuring herself a steady income. at the end of her life, her $13,000 investment was worth about $400,000. .ou can see the land she owned
9:27 pm
they were ultimately sold after her death. interesting fact for those of you here -- notice that the referee in charge of the estate les.a man name rugg youngrs before, he was a man assigned to collect the burrence in the jumel- divorce. new york and be a very small town. -- new york can be a very small town. marriage washis spending patterns. jumel's financial strategy was by and. aaron burr strategy was borrow and spend. when she filed for divorce, she
9:28 pm
obtained an immediate separation in goods from aaron burr so that he could not have access to her money during the divorce proceedings. bill of complaint in which she requested the divorce details the ways in which he had been running through her money. thistly speaking, none of financial business had any weight into force. in 1834 in new york, there was only one ground for divorce. adultery. luckily, aaron burr was a ladies man. for about one year before his marriage, he had been closely acquainted with a 25-year-old woman named jane and had almost certainly been her lover. el used this relationship
9:29 pm
against burr. for someone to seen him andving jane engage in adultery in jersey city in august, 1833, one year after his marriage. supposedly, the servant had spied on them through windows. she had crawled on a shed adjacent to the back window of the house. she had turned back a blind, peaked through the slats and saw the couple in tangled on the setee. she knew what she was seeing. i realize that you think this
9:30 pm
evidence sounds implausible but i must point out that during this time, in order to get a divorce, you have to supply dates, time, and detailed circumstances of the adultery. that meant that virtually every divorce awarded in new york state relied on manufactured evidence. for instance, i read another divorce case from the 1830's. maker supplied evidence for adultery. according to his story, she went upstairs to a bedroom to get fabric that was stored in a closet. she opens the door, observes the couple in the act of adultery on the dbed. at this point, most of us would mumble an apology and back out. not this witness. she testifies that she retrieved the fabric from the closet.
9:31 pm
then she exited, having had ample time to assure herself of the identity of the couple. jumel's case was actually better than most because she brought in other witnesses to testify that aaron burr had had a relationship with jane before his marriage to eliza jumel, including the landlady of her former house. aaron burr contested this divorce strenuously. the question is, why bother? he was artie separated, the marriage had fallen apart. the answer is, eliza jumel's first husband's estate had not
9:32 pm
been settled. once settled, if aaron burr remained married, all of that money would be his. in common-law, man and wife one person and that person was the husband. aaron burr could have spent every penny without asking her permission. he wanted to retain his recently acquired money. he had to avoid divorce. like eliza jumel, you lines up pete witnesses. he was their support -- accused eliza jumel of committing adultery herself. with eight different men, no less. here, we can see her at the mansion, presumably the site of some of these exotic trysts.
9:33 pm
a divorce petition would be dismissed if the person asking for the divorce was unfaithful. is case turned out to be nowhere as good as eliza jumel's. his accusations against her which included an accusation of man --y with her coach the accusations were found to be totally implausible. he nevertheless continues to fight the proceedings with at least 15 different delays and determines. -- adjournments. when eliza jumel was awarded the 1836, heon july 8, appeals the decision immediately. hisbattle only ended with death two months later on september 14, 1836.
9:34 pm
an indication of the estate of his finances, his executors declined to serve. eliza jumel was left the victor. against aaron burr unlike alexander hamilton. the marriage caused her dearly. he ran through a massive amount of money in a short time that she could have used for future security. lawyers tod to pay secure the divorce. thenl say that legal costs were just as bad as they are now. very cleverly, eliza jumel disastrousturn this marriage into an asset.
9:35 pm
as a way to gain the social status that she had desired for so long. by the 1850's, she was traveling urr, widowas madame b of the second vice president of the united states. as to whether she could actually claimed the title as opposed to , well,he divorced wife that is an interesting little wrinkle in her biography. but i don't want to spoil the story. so the answer to that question as to whether she was a widow or divorcee, you will have to read the book. ladies and gentlemen, and we are open to questions. [no audio] [applause] [applause]
9:36 pm
yes? >> what was burr's primary mode of -- [indiscernible] margaret: he wanted to speculate, because he felt that his speculations would bring so much money that he could live as he wished and not worry about finances. unfortunately, he tended to be wrong about these speculations. but that was the idea, anyway. yes? >> the mansion, they have a plaque that says, at some point after burr moved out, he got ill and was tended during his sickness at the mansion? margaret: that is correct. i mentioned that burr moved out of the mansion by september 1833, and jumel and burr were
9:37 pm
separated for goodbye november. the reason for -- for good by november. the reason for this wording is that in october burr was walking down broadway when he lost the use of one leg. he had suffered a stroke. jumel took him back into the mansion to take care of him, and he was there for about a month. they apparently argued quite a bit during that time her -- period, and ultimately burr was moved out again to his law offices, and that was it. so there was an attempt at a return. i saw this hand first. >> hamilton purposely missed. do you think burr was going to
9:38 pm
be president? because the killing destroyed his political career. margaret: i'm sorry, do you mean if burr had not killed hamilton, might he have become president? i think probably not, simply because when burr was jefferson's vice president, jefferson had been very careful to marginalize burr. he saw him as a great political rival. i think burr would have had a very difficult time recovering from that. that said, i am of the parties who think that burr did not intend to kill hamilton. i think it was meant to simply be a wound that would end the duel. he apparently was quite upset after he saw that hamilton was mortally injured, and tried to come up and talk with him.
9:39 pm
he knew what a disaster hamilton's death would be. but also, his time to be president had come and gone. >> tell us a little bit about what happened with the mansion after she died? margaret: well, eliza jumel's estate was tied up in court for years. and, in fact, the fight over her estate ultimately went to the united states supreme court twice. as the estate began to be settled, the mansion was sold in 1882 in an auction, and it was bought by the widow of eliza jumel's adopted daughter, and
9:40 pm
eliza jumel's great-niece and her husband. the three of them, all relatives of a liza jumel, lived in the mansion until 1887. and then they sold it. the last private owners were brigadier general ferdinando and his wife -- ferdinand earl and his wife, lily. when ferdinand died, his widow sold the house to the city in 1903, and it was turned into a museum. margaret: we will withdraw that question. another question? >> was there a legal separation? margaret: first of all, burr and jumel did not have children.
9:41 pm
they married when jumel was 58 and burr was 77. with her first husband, stephen, jumel did not have children. but about six years after the marriage, when they had concluded they were not going to be blessed with children, she and her husband adopted the illegitimate daughter of her sister. so this girl, mary, was raised by the jumels, the coming mary jumels. that, she actually, it was her daughter who became one of the owners of the jumel mansion after the estate. the second half of the question, remind me again?
9:42 pm
well, in late september, burr just left the mansion. he was brought back. he left in november. there was no formal separation. on july 8, 1834 on the anniversary of the duel with hamilton, when jumel filed for divorce papers, she requested and received a form of separation in goods from burr until the divorce proceeding should be concluded. so she did have a legal separation at that time. eliza jumel left a will. it did not please her family. they went to court.
9:43 pm
they overturn the will. -- overturned the will. when you overturn a will, that means the decedent is declared to have died without a will. that opens up the door to any other claimant who think they have a right to the estate of someone who died without a will. when eliza jumel died, thanks to her buy and hold real estate tactics, her estate was worth about $1 million, which is comparable in buying power to $15 million today. there were a great many people who wanted that money. there were many claimants, of whom the most persistent was a gentleman named george washington bowen, who claimed to
9:44 pm
be her illegitimate son by george washington from her days in providence to you laugh, but she brought her case all the way to the supreme court. there was a lot of litigation. when she died in 1865, as late as the 1890's, the lawyers who had represented the various parties in the estate litigation were still fighting among themselves over the legal fees. it went on and on. yes? that's a difficult question to answer. she died in 1865. by 1884, the, her family had reached settlements with all of the semi-valid claimants.
9:45 pm
the last bits of the estate were not sold until 1888. but as late as the end of the century, maybe even 1903, there was someone who claimed to have inherited george washington bowen's claim to the estate, and the best-selling pieces of the jumel estate, which by then belonged to other people. so he got into quite a bit of legal trouble over that. died in terms of actual sales -- or but in terms of actual sales of the estate, i would say it ended in 1888. in terms of the fights among lawyers, i would say the end of the 1890's.
9:46 pm
in the back? >> do you know if that was legal, for women to do that? margaret: most of, well, the united states then was under common law inherited from english law. this was a bit complicated for women, because they could not purchase property without their husband's consent. he had to give them a power of attorney. the only way they could hold property separately was if it was put in trust for them to be managed by them with the help of the trustee. and some parents actually put land and property in trusts for their daughters before the daughters married. now, widows were in a different situation.
9:47 pm
being a widow was the most advantageous financial situation for a woman with means, because she could then buy and sell property as a single woman, without the consent of any male relative. so, eliza jumel was much freer as a widow than she would have been as a wife. is that answer? ok. >> [indiscernible] the intention of burr, it was clear that he was after my. -- went after money. why was she planning to get married in the first place? margaret: she wanted a social status that would come from
9:48 pm
being the wife of a former vice president of the united states. she also could not have known how bad was money burr was. it was something that was known within certain circles in new york. lawyers would have known it, because burr was in and out of the courts. people of his social status would have known it, because he would have tried to borrow money from them. but she was not in the loop of those upper-class circles and the gossip that went on, so she could not have known he was going to be as he was. >> is there any evidence that george washington even knew eliza jumel? margaret: i hate to spoil the story, but let's say there were
9:49 pm
problems with george washington bowen's claim. it did raise a lot of talk at the time. i'm sorry. i don't want to give away the end. [laughter] >> i don't know how many people know who he was. i have an attachment to him -- when i grew up, i read through a leather bound set of his diaries. he's a pivotal person in the building of new york, so when he made that comment, were burr or eliza jumel within their social circle?
9:50 pm
margaret: they were not in his social circle. i actually looked at a number of occasions where the new york elite gathered together. parties, a famous costume ball. the jumels never showed up on those occasions. they just have not cracked that social circle. in fact, another new yorker who was accepted commented on the marriage. jean pintard. when he wrote about the marriage, he started with the words "wonders will never cease." and, -- i can read you what i said.
9:51 pm
wonders will never cease. last monday, colonel burr married ms. jumel, at her elegant country seat in harlem heights. he added of burr, "he is remarkably alert for his years and what he has gone through, and can now retire." this is a play on a latin expression. he says, burr can retire with gentlemanly leisure, but certainly not with the giddy. -- not with dignity. he clearly thinks this is a very declasse marriage. burr is marrying down. that gives you a feel for what eliza jumel have to deal with. nobody would forget her origins,
9:52 pm
until ultimately she lived to the age of 90, people forgot and she got what she wanted. other questions? >> your interest in studying -- margaret: i began volunteering at the morris jumel mansion, her former home, now a museum, in february 2011. within a couple months, i realized she was a fascinating subject. i got interested first in her husband, who was a very successful merchant, but really nothing is known about him. i started to learn about eliza, and realized there were many legends that could not be true, and other legends that were interesting to explore.
9:53 pm
from there, i went on to spend four years researching and writing this book. you really only heard a very small part of eliza jumel's story. there is more. she got into a riproaring battle with her first husband's brother and sister over his estate, which was in chancery for seven years. then there was the story of his trading activities. he was a very clever merchant, trading with france during the napoleonic wars. ahead of the privateers and naval ships on the waters at that time. there is definitely more to that story. ok. [applause] one more? >> one final question. >> how close was the
9:54 pm
relationship with the family? she claim she but there furniture and carriages. -- bought their furniture and carriages. margaret: the relationship with napoleon the first grew up a little later, when it became popular to know about napoleon. she was actually on good terms with some of the people at the court of louis the 18th. this was one of the incongruities that attracted me to the story. she was said to be a supporter of napoleon, but also moved to the court of louis the 18th. there appeared to be a little contradiction, because louis the 18th replaced napoleon. there's also an interseting sentence that her husband wrote to one of his nephews in france.
9:55 pm
he said, we are going to dieppe for the summer, but not until after the coronation. i don't know if that suggests he and eliza may have had an invitation to the coronation of charles the 10th of france, who followed louis the 18th. so they did have imperial connections, just not quite the ones you always hear of. >> we have a lot of unanswered questions, which can only be answered if you buy the book. i will be happy to sell it to you. thank you for coming today. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit]


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on